Jun 11, 2024 - News

Where unaccompanied migrant children in SF come from

Bar chart showing the number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving in San Francisco from January 2015 to May 2023, by country of origin. At least 2,358 unaccompanied child migrants arrived in the city during that time period, with 44% from Guatemala and 30% from Honduras.
Data: U.S. Department of Human Health and Services via New York Times; Note: Includes places that have received at least 100 unaccompanied migrant children; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

The majority of unaccompanied migrant children who arrived in San Francisco between 2015 and 2023 were from Central America.

  • That's based on U.S. Department of Human Health and Services data (HHS) on migrant children sponsors' ZIP codes, obtained by the New York Times through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Why it matters: Unaccompanied migrant children are an especially vulnerable group as federal, state and city leaders spar over sheltering and supporting foreigners who have crossed the border without permission, with some states seeking to crack down hard on illegal immigration.

By the numbers: At least 2,358 unaccompanied migrant children arrived in San Francisco between 2015 and 2023.

  • Top countries of origin were Guatemala (44%), Honduras (30%) and El Salvador (22%), all three of which have experienced political and economic instability.
  • Other countries like Nicaragua and Mexico made up the remaining share.

State of play: San Francisco established the Refugee and Immigrant Solidarity in Education program after taking steps to protect migrant youth in 2017.

  • City agencies aren't allowed to ask about immigration status, which poses some limitations to data collection. But SFUSD has recorded an uptick in new immigrant enrollment over the last few years as migration to the southern border surged.
  • To address the increase in need for migrant children and families, elected officials proposed new strategies for expanding family shelter capacity in March.

What they're saying: "There's a much higher percentage these days of folks coming with nothing: no friends, no family, no place to crash," Eric Cuentos, an SFUSD community manager, told San Francisco Chronicle last month. "It's a stark difference from the past."

The big picture: Most of the over 550,000 unaccompanied migrant children who arrived in U.S. cities between 2015 and 2023 ended up closer to the border in cities like Houston (about 32,000), Los Angeles (about 12,700) and Dallas (about 8,500).

  • If apprehended by immigration authorities, unaccompanied children are usually transferred to the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which in turn tries to place them with sponsors.
  • Over 7,000 were released to sponsors in California — which operates a child welfare and foster care program — between October 2023 and April, according to federal data.

Yes, but: Migrant children "are ending up in some of the most punishing jobs in the country," per a recent Times investigation.

  • "This shadow workforce extends across industries in every state, flouting child labor laws that have been in place for nearly a century."

What we're watching: A new executive order has enabled President Biden to limit asylum claims at the southern border, though it contains exemptions for unaccompanied minors.

  • It could cause more parents to take the risk of separating from their children or sending them to the border alone, advocates say.
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